Senate Armed Services Committee Votes to End Military Ban on Insurance Coverage of Abortion Care for Rape and Incest

VIDEO: Military Leaders Speak in Favor of the Shaheen Amendment

Military leaders speak in favor of insurance coverage for servicewomen in need of abortion care in cases of rape and incest.

A change was made to this article at 11:37 a.m. on May 24th, 2012 to correct an error and clarify portions of existing law. The changes are apparent in the piece itself.

The Senate Armed Services passed an amendment today to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would end the ban on insurance coverage of abortion care for military women and dependents who experience rape or incest. 

The amendment was introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). In November 2011, anti-choice senators refused to allow the Shaheen amendment to come to the floor, so the 2012 NDAA was signed into law with the ban in place. Today’s vote affects the FY 2013 NDAA.

There are some 400,000 women in the United States Armed Forces; they and their families receive health care and insurance through the Department of Defense’s Military Health System. The department currently denies coverage for abortion care except when a pregnant woman’s life is endangered. Unlike other federal bans on abortion coverage, the military ban provides no exception for insurance coverage in cases of rape and incest.

As a result, those seeking safe abortion care after rape or incest must pay out-of-pocket for such care at a military facility. But because physicians on military bases are prohibited from providing abortion care, it is not actually available to military women in need even under the narrow conditions technically allowed.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the current law says the following:

10 USC 1093(a) says “Restrictions on Use of Funds: funds available to the DoD may not be used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.”  


10 USC 1090(b) says “Restriction of Use of Facilities: no medical treatment facility or other facility of the DoD may be used to perform an abortion except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.”  

The first is referred to as “the rape and incest insurance coverage ban,” and the second “the facilities ban.”

Taken together, here is what they mean for service women: 

  • If your life is endangered, you can have an abortion on a military treatment facility and the government will pay for it. 
  • If you’re pregnant because of rape or incest, you can have the abortion on a military treatment facility but there is no Department of Defense insurance coverage available to cover the procedure (i.e. you have to pay for it yourself).
  • If you need an abortion for any other reason (e.g. the condom breaks, fetal anomaly, etc ), too bad – can’t do it on a military treatment facility and DoD won’t pay for it.

As a result, servicewomen who are pregnant due to rape are left uncovered, and servicewomen facing an unintended pregnancy from contraceptive failure or unprotected sex are often forced to choose between taking leave and traveling far distances to an American provider, seeking services from a local, unfamiliar health care facility (if abortion is legal and they are not in a combat zone), having an unsafe procedure, or attempting to self-induce an abortion.

The Shaheen Amendment, if passed by Congress and signed by the President, would address one of these issues by bringing the military’s health insurance policy in line with the policy that governs other federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program and as a result enable  servicewomen to receive insurance coverage for abortion care.  (Another amendment, the MARCH Act, which has not been passed, would address both pieces by ensuring funding for rape and incest (i.e. Shaheen Amendment) and enabling women to access safe abortion on base for any reason, though this would be paid out of pocket with no DoD funds involved (this latter portion comes originally from the Burris amendment 2010). 

The Shaheen amendment is strongly supported by military leaders, physicians, and servicewomen themselves.  

“Women who put their lives on the line fighting for our freedom shouldn’t be denied reproductive health care services,” said Gale Pollock, Major General, US Army (Ret.).

“The Shaheen Amendment restores fairness to discriminatory legislation that denies servicewomen access to the healthcare they need. At the very least, our servicewomen deserve the same level of coverage as other women who rely on the government for their health care.”

“Servicewomen promise to support and defend the Constitution and our country,” said Cindy McNally, Chief Master Sergeant, US Air Force (Ret.). “It’s unconscionable to turn our backs on them in their time of need. We owe it to them — and to ourselves — to get this one right.”

“The Shaheen amendment is greatly needed. It’s simply unfair to deny our military women the same abortion coverage that other government employees have,” said Dennis Laich, Major General, US Army (Ret.). “Our servicewomen fight every day for us – it’s time we fight for them.” 

“This is about equity,” said Senator Shaheen. “Civilian women who depend on the federal government for health insurance – whether they are postal workers or Medicaid recipients – have the right to access affordable abortion care if they are sexually assaulted. It is only fair that the thousands of brave women in uniform fighting to protect our freedoms are treated the same.”

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  • leftcoaster

    “Rape and incest only.” So if you get pregnant by means other than intentionally being sexually active, it is not a human being? Is that the message?


    Ridiculous. These people are supposedly fighting to defend our constitution. Let them benefit from it. They have rights, damnit.


  • maryanna-price

    This will never, ever, not in a million years, pass the Congress. People already hate the NDAA because “it lets Obama lock people up forever” and now they want to add “taxpayer-funded abortion” to it. Give it up. Women lost the right to an abortion the day the Hyde Amendment was passed.

    You either give a woman rights or a fetus rights, but you can’t do both. This is a disgrace. 

  • noworsethanusual

    The National Right to Life organization is claiming that the U.S. House of Representatives will vote May 30 on a bill to impose a national ban with federal prison time for anyone performing, soliciting to perform, etc., an abortion for “sex selection,” at any point in pregnancy.  From their website:




    For immediate release: Friday, May 25, 2012, 3 PM EDT
    For further information:   NRLC Federal Legislation, 202-626-8820,


    U.S. House votes Wednesday on bill to ban sex-selection abortions nationwide;  National Right to Life calls on lawmakers to oppose
    “the escalating war on baby girls”


    WASHINGTON (May 25, 2012) –  The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the nation’s largest pro-life organization, is calling on members of the U.S. House of Representatives to go on record against “the escalating war on baby girls,” by voting to pass a national ban on sex-selection abortions when the bill reaches the House floor next week (on Wednesday, May 30).

    The legislation is a recently revised version of the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) (H.R. 3541), sponsored by Congressman Trent Franks (R-Az.).  The House will consider the bill on the “Suspension Calendar,” which means that a two-thirds vote will be required for passage.

    In a letter being sent to House members, NRLC quotes the recent observation of political economist Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute:  “In terms of its sheer toll in human numbers, sex-selective abortion has assumed a scale tantamount to a global war against baby girls.”  NRLC also cites studies that indicate the practice is also becoming increasingly prevalent in the U.S., particularly within communities of immigrants from Asia.

    The bill would make it an offense, punishable by up to five years imprisonment, to knowingly do any one of the following four things:  (1) perform an abortion “knowing that such abortion is sought based on the sex or gender of the child”; (2) use “force or threat of force. . . for the purpose of coercing a sex-selection abortion”; (3) solicit or accept funds to perform a sex-selection abortion; or (4) transport a woman into the U.S. or across state lines for this purpose.  However, “A woman upon whom a sex-selection abortion is performed may not be prosecuted or held civilly liable for any violation . . .”

    NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson commented, “Those lawmakers who recently have embraced contrived political rhetoric asserting that they are resisting a ‘war on women’ must reflect on whether they now wish to be recorded as being defenders of the escalating war on baby girls.”

  • jennifer-starr

    Sounds like a piece of bad legislation to me. 

  • noworsethanusual

    so why is no one here talking about it?  Is it true?

  • jennifer-starr

    Is it true?


    You tell me–you were the one who posted it. 

  • crowepps

    Since the National Right to Life Committee tells huge lies all the time, I don’t consider them a credible source of anything except perhaps that the sky is blue — and I would go check to make sure that was correct.

  • noworsethanusual

    It wasn’t easy but finally I did find this bill that Right to Life is talking about.  And it is true, it is listed on the US House of Representatives schedule for Wednesday May 30.

    It is HR 3541.  The language of the bill is there too.  Five years prison time for a “sex selection abortion” at any point in pregnancy. 

  • jennifer-starr

    Seeing as you post things from The NRLC quite frequently (looked at your history) and it’s quite obvious that you’re a devotee/member/hired flunky–it’s more than a little dishonest to post this crap and then go–‘Oh gee, what’s this? Is it weally true?’  It’s sort of like those infomercials who air under the guise of some non-biased news show. But then again, the anti-choice movement has never been big on honesty, have they? 


    And it’s still bad legislation. End of story. 

  • jennifer-starr

    a) The bill addresses a problem which in this country, is virtually non-existent.  Sort of like the anti-Sharia law legislation or the flag-burning amendment.

    b) The gender of the child usually can’t even be determined until the second trimester–16 to 20 weeks, and the vast majority of abortions happen before then. 

    c) How would you possibly determine that this is the reason for the abortion? Ask them? Unless you’ve developed mind-reading powers, all they’d have to do is answer ‘No’. 


    Not that any of these facts will stop the anti-choice movement  and the politicians who pander to them by trotting out this crap rather than focusing on ACTUAL ISSUES  like jobs.  Remember jobs? I wouldn’t trust Trent Franks to negotiate his way across the street, let alone make decisions about a woman’s pregnancy.

    Our tax dollars at work here, people. 

  • purplemistydez

    But Jennifer you are using logic and facts.  Not lies and propaganda.  LOL.